Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow A few years back, I asked printmaker Rosemary Feit Covey what she thought of fellow printmaker Edward Gorey (of Gashlycrumb Tinies fame, &c). She told me something I didn't understand at the time: she had a hard time appreciating Gorey's work because she got too caught up in analyzing his technique. It was a problem she had with art in general, but especially with the work of other wood engravers. At the time, the only art I understood was writing, and, well, I was a hack. Okay, a worse hack. But now I think I finally get her point. And man, is it ever annoying. Cory Doctorow's 2003 debut, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, is one of the most original novels I've read this year. It's also one of the most predictable. It's a question of content versus form: I found the content to be fresh, but the form was strictly by the numbers. Here's the deal (and you'll find this, or something nearly like it, in just about every self-help writing book you'll grab off the shelf): (Hey, this might be a spoiler. If you care about that, skip the numbers and read on.)
- Start with a likable protagonist.
- Throw some adversity his way.
- Throw some more adversity his way.
- Bring him low, very low.
- Lower still.
- Mmm . . . no, lower still.
- Has he lost everything yet? Good!
- At the last moment, wrench him from the jaws of defeat . . . oh, and make sure he has learned something in the process.